Banack becomes 10,000th master electrician
Round Hill’s Pauline Banack became the 10,000th person to become a certified master electrician in Alberta through the Safety Codes Council on Oct. 16. Supplied
Pauline Banack has worked hard to carve out a life for herself as an electrician, and this past month she made history.
On Oct. 16, she became the 10,000th person since 2011 to become a certified master electrician in Alberta through the Safety Codes Council.
“It means I’m part of an elite group of people,” she said. “It’s cool being part of something that will only happens once.”
When the Round Hill area native got into the trade, she was only looking for a way to support her family as a single mother of three. After spending 15 years as a dental assistant and another four as a receptionist and office manager, she could not afford to go back to school for multiple years to pursue another career, so she entered the trades. Going this route allowed her to learn on the job and earn a good paycheque while doing so.
Banack, 48, also liked the physical aspect of the job and working with her hands.
“It keeps me healthy, it keeps me fit,” she said. “I was starting to have arthritis working at a desk all day and I became an electrician, and working in a physical job and all of that stuff went away.”
She worked her way from being an apprentice to a journeyman, and this masters course completes a nine-year trek. Now she has her eye set on being an electrical inspector.
“I like the idea of working for myself and I originally wanted to do it so I could have my own company,” said Banack, who owns Shock Masters based out of Round Hill.
The industry has come a long way since she first started.
Banack did not quite know what she got herself into on the first day when two male co-workers got into a disagreement that led to them shoving each other and then cool heads prevailing.
“I was freaking out, thinking ‘Oh my God, somebody’s going to get hurt,’” she said. “They yelled at each other for a while and then said ‘OK, let’s go to work,’ and they moved on. It was definitely an experience because women don’t do that … there were no hard feelings.”
Banack has heard stories from colleagues that 20 years ago a work site would almost shut down when a female trades person walked on site. They would draw stares like a unicorn had wandered in from nowhere. She was one of three female students in her class of 300 for her first-year electrician classes. While women are still drastically outnumbered on site, she is seeing more and more entering the trade. She counted five women out of the 100 people in the cafeteria she was eating at while in camp at Fort Hill, north of Fort McMurray on Thursday.
The Safety Codes Council did not keep demographic stats in the early years of the program, but according to certification coordinator Judy Parker in an email, “Anecdotally speaking, we are seeing one or two women in most exam sittings, which is an increase over what we have seen historically.”
It is a gap Banack would like to see closed even further.
She takes a lot of pride in the fact that she has had to overcome a number of barriers to get to this point just because she is a woman. She says women have to prove themselves over and above what men do — that they can keep up — when they walk on a job site.
“I don’t think this trade, this job should have anything to do with whether you’re a girl or a guy,” she said. “I would like to see the whole idea of whether you’re a male or female not matter at all. To me, that’s what equality means. We’re doing the same job. If I can do the same job as you, I would like to see when a woman comes on a job they don’t have to prove themselves more than a man does.”
Two of Banack’s daughters are grown and in their early 20s and her third is 17 and in her final year at Round Hill School. While none of them are following in her footsteps, they are appreciative of the example she is setting for them.
“They think it’s cool, it’s just not for them,” said Banack. “I think they take a little bit of pride in that I’m doing something a little bit different than all their friends’ moms do, most of them went the traditional female route.”